A radial head fracture is the most common broken elbow bone seen in adults. Radial head fractures are common injuries, occurring in about 20 percent of all acute elbow injuries. They are more frequent in women than in men and occur most often between 30 and 40 years of age. Approximately 10 percent of all elbow dislocations involve a fracture of the radial head. As the upper arm bone (humerus) and the ulna return to their normal alignment, a piece of the radial head bone could be chipped off (fractured). Radial head fractures cause pain and swelling around the elbow. Radial head fractures occur most commonly in contact and collision sports when a player falls onto an outstretched hand or arm. . Blunt or penetrating trauma rarely causes radial head injury.
The presence of bleeding, even with small puncture wounds, should alert the examiner to the possibility of open injury. Neurovascular symptoms of numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation should be identified to rule out nerve or vascular injury. The presence of severe pain should alert the examiner to the possibility of compartment syndrome. Primary treatment involves sending for expert medical assistance, securing the arm to the body in a comfortable position and gentle application of ice for 20 min. Further treatment requires the expertise of an orthopaedic surgeon because a fracture in which the bone is displaced may require fixation. A bone fractured with no displacement may require only splinting the arm at a 90° angle for a few weeks.
Radial Head Fracture Treatment and Prevention Tips
1. Nonsurgical treatment involves using a splint or sling for a few days, followed by early motion.
2. If too much motion is attempted too quickly, the bones may shift and become displaced.
3. If displacement is minimal,followed by range of motion exercises, is usually successful.
4. Small fragments may be surgically removed.
5. Early movement to stretch and bend the elbow is necessary to avoid stiffness.
6. A prosthesis (artificial radial head) can be used to prevent deformity if elbow instability is severe.